An Interview with Jim Pankovits

added 09/21/01 by Ray Kerby

Jim Pankovits was a Virginia native and played college ball at USC before being drafted by Houston in 1976. After several years in the minors, he made the team as a versatile bench player. He is currently the team's Minor League Defense Coordinator.

(c) Houston Astros
Ray Kerby: As a child, did you always want to be a ballplayer? What made you want to be a ballplayer? How did you get started?

Jim Pankovits: I was born to be a ballplayer. My dad, Vince, managed and played professionally with the Boston Braves organization. He coached me when I first started playing.

RK: Growing up in Virginia, who was your favorite team and players? Why did you like them?

JP: Baltimore Orioles - Brooks Robinson. Richmond Braves - I rooted for the local team.

RK: Why did you choose to attend college at USC? What kind of success did you have there? Why did you choose to play ball in college instead of signing right out of high school?

JP: I did not have very many opportunities; I wasn't drafted out of high school. I liked USC coach Bobby Richardson and the players there. We lost the National Championship in 1975 to the University of Texas (my sophomore year). I was an All-American third baseman in my Junior Year.

RK: You were Houston's 4th-round draft pick in 1976. What was the adjustment like, going from college ball to the minors?

JP: I played my first year (Rookie ball) in Covington, VA in the Appalachian League. Professional baseball, even in Rookie ball, was a higher level of play. I was moved from third base to second base for the first time.

RK: After a trade to San Diego as a minor league, you became a seven-year free agent and re-signed with the Astros. Did you ever worry that you wouldn't make it to the majors? Why did you choose to return to Houston?

JP: I was actually traded for myself. I was traded for a player who was hurt. The deal became a trade for a player to be named later then. When the two organizations couldn't agree on a player after the season, I became property of the Astros again.

RK: You first major league at-bat resulted in a pinch-hit single. What do you remember about that at-bat?

JP: It was my second big league game in uniform. I pinch-hit in a close game in the 9th inning against athe Pirates' left-handed reliever. I battled him to a 3-2 count, and had a sharp single to left field.

RK: Your ability to play many different positions made you a valuable reserve player for the team, including serving as the emergency catcher. How did you prepare for this role, and what prompted you to start catching?

JP: In 1985, the owners decided to reduce expenses by reducing rosters from 25 to 24 men. Most clubs only carried two catchers and had another player become the third catcher. I volunteered in Spring Training and made the team, spending the whole season in the bullpen.

RK: You stole 116 bases in the minors, but not much in the majors. What do you think were the reasons for this difference? Were you called on often as a pinch-runner?

JP: I was an everyday player in the minors, but had only a few opportunities to start in the big leagues. I was very seldom called as a pinch-runner.

RK: Who was the toughest pitcher you had to face, and why?

JP: Mark Wohlers when he first came up; Randy Myers and Fernando Valenzuela. Wohlers and Myers threw hard, and Valenzuela had five pitches, and the umpires would call pitches well off the plate for him.

RK: You played on the 1986 club that reached the playoffs and lost a grueling series to the Mets. What are your thoughts on that series? Any personal opinions on Fred Brocklander's umpiring?

JP: It was the most exciting time in my career. I thought we really had a chance to go to the World Series. I thought it ironic that Brocklander was a native New Yorker (I think).

RK: What are some of your fondest memories from your playing days?

JP: I played in four amateur World Series (Little League, Senior League, American Legion, and College). I played on great teams with great guys, and made many friends for life.

RK: After retiring as a player, you made the transition to managing in the Astros farm system. How did your skills as a player help you make this transition? What kind of difficulties does a non-pitcher face in handling a pitching staff?

JP: Having been an everyday player and a bench player, I understood the importance to a club of every player. Handling the pitchers was the toughest part of managing for me.

RK: After having some success as a manager, reaching the playoffs twice in four seasons, you are now the organization's Minor League Defense Coordinator. What are your hopes and plans for your career?

JP: To help the Astros in any capacity where they feel I can help the most. I like what I'm doing, but it would be nice to get back to Houston in some position.

RK: Thank you for your time.